The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on 22 July that director-general Yukiya Amano had died.
"The Secretariat of the International Atomic Energy Agency regrets to inform with deepest sadness of the passing away of Director General Yukiya Amano," the IAEA said in a statement.
Amano had been expected to announce that he would step down early because of an illness. He had been preparing to leave his position in March, well before the end of his third four-year term, which would have run until 30 November 2021. The IAEA announced last September that Amano had undergone an unspecified medical procedure.
Amano, aged 72, had held the position of IAEA director-general since 2009, taking over from Mohamed ElBaradei. He had led the agency through a period of intense diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program and strenuous efforts to return the agency to North Korea, which expelled IAEA inspectors in 2009. Amano had always insisted that his agency was technical rather than political, in contrast to ElBaradei, who had clashed with US officials over Iran and was more outspoken on sensitive issues.
Amano was a graduate of the Tokyo University Faculty of Law and joined the Japanese Foreign Ministry in April 1972 and undertook international assignments to Belgium, France, Laos, Switzerland, and the USA. During his time at the Foreign Ministry, Amano served as a governmental expert on the UN Panel on Missiles and on the UN Expert Group on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education. He contributed to the 1995, 2000, and 2005 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conferences.
Amano served as chair of the IAEA’s board of governors from September 2005 to September 2006 and was Japan’s resident representative to the agency from 2005 until his election as director-general in July 2009. He had also chaired the 2007 Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
Amano directed the IAEA's response to the March 2011 Fukushima disaster visiting the accident site in July 2011. "All lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi accident have now been incorporated into all IAEA nuclear safety requirements ensuring they become part of global safety practice," he noted in 2017.
The IAEA, under Amano’s leadership, played a key role in bringing about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA), subsequently verifying and monitoring Iran's implementation of its nuclear-related commitments. Despite the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 an the resulting the increase in international tensions, Amano told the IAEA Board of Governors in June that the JCPOA "represents a significant gain for nuclear verification" and that he hoped "ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue”.
Among Amano’s achievements is the amendment of the IAEA's motto from 'Atoms for Peace' to 'Atoms for Peace and Development' emphasising the importance of closer co-operation with other UN bodies working on the 17 goals for sustainable development. He also encouraged the IAEA to increase its support to countries looking to introduce nuclear power in their energy mix.
“At the national level, there is often a lack of awareness of the major contribution nuclear science and technology make to development. As a result, the full potential of peaceful nuclear science and technology is not being realised," he told the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology: Addressing Current and Emerging Development Challenges in Vienna in November 2018. "I therefore believe it is time to mainstream the use of peaceful nuclear technology at the highest level. That means raising public awareness about nuclear technology, incorporating it explicitly into national development plans, and stressing its importance to aid agencies and donors," he said.
The IAEA statement announcing Amano's death did not give any schedule for naming a successor, but an agency spokesman said: “The Secretariat is in communication with board members,” adding that Mary Alice Hayward, deputy director-general and head of the department of management, is now the acting director-general. Argentina's ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi and the agency's chief coordinator Cornel Feruta of Romania, in effect Amano's chief of staff, are both seen as possible successors. However, no major change is expected in the agency's handling of key issues such as Iran and North Korea.
The IAEA Secretariat said it wished to share Amano’s most recent reflection, which he had intended to include in his letter to the Board of Governors announcing his decision to step down: “During the past decade, the Agency delivered concrete results to achieve the objective of ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’, thanks to the support of Member States and the dedication of Agency staff. I am very proud of our achievements, and grateful to Member States and Agency staff.” The flag over the IAEA head office in Vienna has been lowered to half-mast.
Photo: Yukiya Amano served as IAEA director general from July 2009 to July 2019 (credit: IAEA)